Music therapy and mental health

Have you ever felt that talk therapy alone is not effective for you or you struggle to express yourself using words? Or perhaps you are not ready to talk directly to someone about a traumatic event, but you still want to begin the process of healing? Maybe you are not able to communicate verbally? Perhaps you have always found music or dance to be a safer way to express yourself than conversation? Maybe you are struggling with chronic pain, movement, or memory problems? All of these situations may benefit from a different form of science-based therapy, music therapy.

What is Music Therapy

Music therapy is a form of therapy where a qualified health professional, who has completed training with an approved musical therapy program, uses clinical and evidenced based music interventions to help their client achieve their individual health goals. In other words, a person who is trained in how music can help a person’s health, works with you to achieve your therapy goals using music as the primary tool. Music therapy can be individual or in groups. It can also take place in different settings including inpatient or outpatient facilities. If you are looking for a form of therapy that can help you express yourself in ways other than primarily talking, this may be for you.

Benefits of Music Therapy

Music therapy has been proven to have emotional, physical, and neurological benefits. Such as, reducing social anxiety, helping with the expression of grief, helping with the expression of emotional trauma, helping with impulsivity, lowering blood pressure, relaxing muscles, improving fine motor skills, helping with the relief of insomnia (helps you sleep), and with the healing of traumatic brain injuries.

Music therapy has also been shown to be particularly helpful for people dealing with chronic pain, depression, diabetes, difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication, emotional dysregulation, headaches, negative mood, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research also suggests it can be beneficial for people dealing with problems related to childbirth, rehabilitation after injury, breathing problems, trouble with movement, trouble with coordination, heart conditions, autism spectrum disorder, substance abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia, stroke, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease. As well as being helpful for those with memory issues, people needing to reduce stress (by decreasing cortisol, the stress hormone), and those wanting to improve their self-esteem.

Different Types of Music Therapy

There are several types of music therapy techniques used in different settings with different benefits. But the four main types of music therapy are:

Compositional music therapy is all about composing pieces of music with the help of their music therapist, including both lyrics and instruments. This type of music therapy is primarily used for those processing grief or those struggling with self-esteem.
Improvisation music therapy is the spontaneous creation of songs. This is used so that the music therapist can understand the client’s mood and feelings based off of the sounds and lyrics they create. This is particularly useful for clients processing traumas they do not feel comfortable directly talking about yet. It is also good for building self-confidence and for improving decision-making skills, as it is more directly led by the client.

Receptive music therapy is music therapy where the therapist plays music for the client, and then the client responds in any way that they wish. Their response may be an explanation of how it made them feel, a dance, sounds, lyrics, or a piece of music of their own. This is primarily used for clients with anxiety, as listening to music has been shown to calm anxiety. It also helps with hearing and memory problems.

Re-creative music therapy is when the client is asked to re-create the sounds and/or songs the therapist makes. This could include lyrics or instrument sounds. This is primarily used for clients struggling with developmental problems. Such as children with movement disorders or clients suffering with dementia.

Music Therapy Techniques

  • Drumming
  • Listening to live music
  • Listening to recorded music
  • Learning music related relaxation techniques (like deep breathing or muscle relaxation techniques)
  • Singing familiar songs
  • Playing instruments
  • Improvising music with voice or instruments
  • Writing song lyrics
  • Writing a new song
  • Learning a new instrument
  • Creating art while listening to music
  • Dancing
  • Writing choreography
  • Discussing the emotional reaction to a particular piece of music
Who Would Benefit from Music Therapy

Music therapy is proven to help with the cognitive function, communication skills, social skills, motor skills, emotional development, and overall quality of life of those who take part. In particular there is strong evidence that music therapy significantly helps those suffering with depression and anxiety. One could argue that anyone could benefit from music therapy, but it is quite clear that it is particularly useful for adults, children, or adolescents looking for new and effective ways of expressing and dealing with their emotions, traumas, and anxieties. It is also a form of therapy that benefits both the verbal and the nonverbal. Those who are unable to express themselves with words may greatly benefit from the ability to express themselves with sounds and instruments. In any case this form of therapy is a science-based therapy that can provide positive results to people coping with a variety of problems.

Author: Kellen Olivia Kiisler

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